Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 18:19 UK

US arms Mali to battle al-Qaeda

Malian soldiers with Land Cruisers, 20/10
Some 37 Land Cruisers were handed over to the Malians

The US is preparing to give Mali's army millions of dollars worth of military hardware to help them fight al-Qaeda's North African branch.

Trucks, powerful communication devices and clothing are among $5m (£3m) of equipment being handed over.

Mali is already being helped to fight the Islamists by Algeria and Libya.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb emerged in 2007 from an Algerian Islamist group and has since claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks in the region.

The US ambassador to Mali told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme there was growing concern over the actions of the group.

"We applaud the fact that the government of Mali has taken a firm stance and wants to be as effective as possible in combating that problem," Gillian Milovanovic said.

The military equipment is intended to ensure that the country can protect its own borders, she said.

'Total war'

The Islamist group killed scores of people during 2007 and 2008 in suicide attacks and car bombings, mainly along Algeria's Mediterranean coast.

Algeria has seen fewer attacks in 2009 but the group - thought to be made up of a few hundred fighters - appears intent on moving southwards.

Mali map

They have claimed responsibility for killing a US citizen in Mauritania and a British hostage in Mali.

Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure promised a "total war" against the Islamists and has claimed several successes.

The government recruited members of the nomadic Tuareg people - themselves former insurgents - to battle the Islamists.

But the BBC's Martin Vogl in the capital, Bamako, says there has been little action over the past few months.

He says the gift from the US and talk of co-operation with other countries in the region may mean the battle is about to begin in earnest.

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